VOL. 2, NO. 2, PGS. 22–34


The Nature of Populism
Some Contemporary Ideas
José Luis Villacañas Berlanga

José Luis Villacañas Berlanga is Professor and Director of the Department of History of Philosophy, Aesthetics and Theory of Knowledge at the Complutense University of Madrid. He is also the author of Populismo.

The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics
John B. Judis. Columbia Global Reports, 2016.

This translation has been automatically generated and has not been verified for accuracy.

Populism is a logic. This is John B. Judis’ main thesis, with which he opens the book. And like all logic, it is rather a formal structure, a method, perhaps a technique, something that can be easily reproduced, imitated, applied, repeated, contagious. The expansive nature of populism, of which this book provides irrefutable proof, by narrating the main American and European experiences, is similar in this respect to the nature of technique, to that of science. Is populism a technified logic of politics? Maybe, a logic that puts other communicative techniques at the service of its ends? Of course it is. If populism were a mere technical instrument, it could serve the left, the right, the centre. As a logic, as a technique, populism assumes the old understanding of rhetoric and is oriented towards seduction and persuasion.

However, this theoretically promising beginning of the book is soon abandoned in favour of a more sociological, more historical exposition. In fact, it is this that runs through the book, presenting the cases of the United States, Europe, Greece and Spain. Published in a collection entitled “Columbia Global Reports”, it does exactly what it says it will do. Written with elegance, with objectivity, everything in the book is functional, measured, effective and, of course, it also makes use of theory. Although he is very well informed on the different theorists of the various national versions of populism present, Judis does not enter into a theoretical discussion internal to populism, into a general theory capable of distancing itself from concrete cases. This always leaves the theorist of political ideas who loves more abstract reflections without his playground. But it can also be a virtue. Unlike other books on the topic, such as Jan-Werner Müller’s, this book is written down to earth, connecting with the actors, the spaces, the scenarios, the traditions. It is neither coldly objective nor at an Olympian distance. He goes down to the front line in each case and pursues the actors in their story with clarity and efficiency.

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